Tag Archives: literature

Writer’s Resource

Here’s to a good start to everyone’s week.

I’ve been obviously occupied with current events lately and realized I need to balance my posts out a little better. The energy it takes to dig and find something new to create is being rerouted to edit a manuscript that I really hope is out by the end of the year, although I thought it’d be out by the beginning of summer…such is the life, right?  Current events however, provide plenty of thought provoking ideas which are not as difficult to filter through the keyboard.

In an effort to level out my own blog, I wanted to pass on a great blog site that’s quite resourceful for us writers:  Writing and Illustrating.   The authoress consistently features children’s book illustrators, agents who are seeking scripts, and useful writing tips.  I hope you find it as enriching as I do.

Go write something today!  And I challenge you to take a minute to see if there’s an imbalance somewhere in your writing choices.  As I’ve just discovered, sometimes we can focus on one thing too much without noticing.

Yours,

Frankie

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Planking and Editing: Discipline Through Exercise

Who knew that planking and editing have their similarities?

I didn’t, at least not until I added the former to my exercise regime.   After four babies wreaked havoc on my lower lumbar system, I’m always on the lookout for anything to keep my back muscles strong.  Enter planking, that horrible exercise invented by the devil himself (after he thought up wall sits).  If anyone has been able to do a plank for a full two minutes their very first time, they have my undying respect (as it is, three weeks in, I am up to a minute thirty).  Planking is work, it’s grueling, but it’s definitely effective.   Within just a few days I noticed a sense of overall physical strength and – bonus! – the arms I inherited from my grandma have never looked better.

If planking was invented by the devil, then I’m pretty sure editing was invented by his archangel.  Editing is work, it’s grueling, but it’s definitely effective. The discipline involved is not unlike the focus it takes to keep upright on arms and toes for one hundred twenty seconds. It takes focus.  It takes a will of mind that can only be activated by one’s own choosing.  Think of those beautiful passages, full of poetic prose, close to your writer’s heart because, damn, who have you ever read that compares the sunrise to the opening of a sunflower with color descriptions that would make Robert Frost cry?  During the editing process, its those precious paragraphs that must be excised.  Taken out.  Highlight, ctrl x. They don’t belong no matter how many minutes you spent finding the terms for differing shades of yellow and orange.  This is the kind of discipline editing requires (similar to planking) where focus is paramount for a successful outcome, but it’s absolutely worth the effort.   That lean, streamlined, strong manuscript you submit to your publisher is the reward – not to mention the overall strength you’ll acquire as a writer (bonus!).

Editing is one of those things that we don’t necessarily dream about when first committing to a writing career.  We envision our name on the best seller list or at the bottom of a book cover.  We are excited to get that story out of our heads, give it life, and make it breath for our readers. But few of us realize the discipline involved with the editing process until the first work is done and we begin to cut, paste, and delete. It’s tempting to be generous to ourselves and our cherished prose, but we must enforce strict self-control in order to achieve the strongest possible outcome.

Have a great week kids, write something, and here’s to discipline – on and off the page.

Yours, Frankie


Third Person

I’m a morning kind of guy and like to sit out on my deck with a hot cup of coffee so that I can watch the world wake up.   Across the lane from me is a canal with an easement road on the other side of it.  A variety of persons use the dirt road: runners, groups of kids going to school, and a few walkers. There is one who stands out among them.

She comes round three or four times a week with her dog.  The road is gated and ends just where my back yard sits across from it and instead of turning around and making her way home like everyone else, she’ll sit there on the bank of the canal. This is one of the reasons she stands out; what kind of person stops and just watches the water?

I mean, this girl watches the water.   Her pose does not change for moments at a time (she’s inevitably interrupted in her meditations by the dog as it shakes off the water from its coat right next to her after a dip in the canal).  She seems purposeful in her thought.   What is it she ponders, I wonder myself as warm coffee keeps out the cool morning chill, or does she? Maybe she only notices the sway of the algae in the current and thinks of nothing else.   Perhaps just the action of the water dragging against a low hung tree branch is enough to encapsulate her thoughts.

Whatever the content of her imaginations, it must be important for her to sit there and commune with her surroundings as she does.  She makes it a point.  An appointment, in fact, with herself and her world with which she seems to interact on as intimate a level as anyone I’ve seen in my long life.

Take her dogs for example.  I’ve seen her with two over the years.  The one with her this morning she’s only had for a while, still a pup.  The first one must have passed on.  I watched one morning as it chased a squirrel and fell over on its side in convulsions.   She ran to the animal, soothed it, calmed it, and after a while she picked it up to carry it to where ever home was. Their walks were less frequent after that, and then one week she was back on schedule, this time with a small black thing that is now a big black thing.  She’s good with the dog.  She’ll call it to her on occasion, rewarding it with some treat or other.  She makes it sit and does so with just a slight hand gesture, impressive.

Besides the way she interacts with her dogs there are other clues to her connection with nature.  She almost always touches the low hanging tree limbs of the aged oak tree that provides a canopy over the easement road. She can call a horse or two to the fence and pet them. There are times I see her with a feather tucked in her hat; once I watched her reach among the reeds to claim a nice size turkey feather. She promptly stuck it in her hair.

She always has a baseball hat on.   She pulls her long hair through the opening in the back.  They vary in color and insignia and I’ve queried on some quiet mornings if she chooses the hat specifically or randomly?

Specifically, I think.  She dresses neatly and appropriate to the weather.  She walks upright, shoulders square, eyes in front (this too sets her apart since most walk with a slumped shoulder or head down). She’s fit so she doesn’t slack in the exercise department. These are the actions of a person who is deliberate in her choices.   Which particular hat to wear must weigh in her mind I would think.

There’s a bit of a rebel in her despite the meticulous presentation.  I notice a few tattoos, on the ankles and forearms (I suppose I could make them out if I employed my binoculars, but I’m not one to be that nosy.  Besides, I sort of like the mystery).  They hint at a kind of contradiction, I think.  Proper in just about every way, the ink belies the undercurrent of an unorthodox life, especially in this conservative town.   The contrast makes her even more mysterious:  does she know what the conflict is?  Has she made peace with herself over it, or is it something she still navigates? I’ll never know, most likely, but the preponderance is worth my time somehow.   Maybe I’ll find answers to my own contradictions.

She’s taught me a couple of things, and that’s saying something for this old man.  She taught me to just watch. The power of observation and quiet is a tool I am happy to have acquired, thanks to her.   She’s taught me to be freer.   She apparently is unaware that she’s observed since all her actions are without restraint, without inhibition.  She is open to her world more than any other person I have seen, and the example inspires me. She’s sure to have her faults, she’s human after all.  But she seems to live on a more interactive level of life than most and I for one am fascinated by her ability to do so.

She’s come and gone for the day which means my time for musing should come to an end as well. Those chores aren’t gonna do themselves. Thanks for listening.

*author’s note:  Aldous Huxley sez, ” To see ourselves as others see us is a most salutary gift.” The Doors of Perception, 1954.  The quote hounded me and this short story is the result of its persistence.  I turned it into a writing exercise, a challenging one at that.   It’s tempting to divulge too much, give away a small detail, or step out of character and yield to my own interpretation.  I’m not so sure I succeeded in every way, its difficult to remain objective about oneself, but the introspection was worth.   Keep writing kids……Frankie.


Book Review: ‘Beloved’ by Toni Morrison

(Penguin Books, New York, 1987)

‘Beloved’ is perhaps the most beautiful book I’ve ever read, as a reader, and definitely one of the most heartbreaking.  Of course it won a Nobel Prize….

Ms. Morrison’s microcosmic world of characters, former slaves all of them trying to carve a life out of the freedom the war apparently won them, is wrought with a raw emotion and human-ness that strikes the reader to the very core of what it means to be trapped by circumstances.

“For a used-to-be-slave woman to love anything that much was dangerous, especially if it was her children she had settled on to love.  The best thing, he knew, was to love just a little bit; everything, just a little bit, so when they broke its back or shoved it in a croaker sack, well, maybe you’d have a little love left over for the next one.”

“During, before and after the war he had seen Negroes so stunned or hungry, or tired or bereft it was a wonder they recalled or said anything. Who, like him, had hidden in caves and fought owls for food; who, like him, stole from pigs; who, like him, slept in trees in the day and walked by night; who, like him, had buried themselves in slop and jumped in wells to avoid regulators, raiders, paterollers, veterans, hill men, posses and merrymakers.”

Ms. Morrison draws and paints her story from some un-sounded deep wells of humanity, reminding us that within each of us lies the capacity for evil as well as good. The story’s main character, Sethe (pronounced seth-uh) escaped via the Underground Railroad to Cincinnati (giving birth along the way), where she waits with her four small children for the husband that never catches up to her as agreed (She finds out later that his sanity snapped when he witnessed her being abused at the hands of two white boys).   In the very first weeks of her freedom, her old master comes and “…she flew, snatching up her children like a hawk on the wing; how her face beaked, how her hands worked like claws, how she collected them every which way:  one on her shoulder, one under her arm, one by the hand, the other shouted forward into the woodshed filled with just sunlight and shavings…”

Sethe made a mother’s choice.  She made a heart-wrenching, unforgivable, understandable mother’s choice:  Send her children into the afterlife where they would be free from the torture of the man coming to get them, or allow them to be captured again, treated like animals.  Could she let her sons face the potential of a horse bit in his mouth like her brother experienced?  No.  She would see them on the other side, God would understand and so would they, and they would not suffer this life.

She was not recaptured.  The sight of a blood crazed mother put out their fire.  Sethe was left alone, with three of her children unharmed since they got to the shed in time.  She went on to live a semblance of a life, taking care of a heartbroken mother-in-law and watching her two sons leave as soon as they were able.  She ended up with only Denver, the little girl born on their escape, living in a house haunted with the ghost of the child she sent on ahead.

The life Sethe leads reminded me of an important lesson I learned a while back:  we have the ability to make our own prisons in life, whether it be to circumstances, a health issue, an unhealthy relationship, a burden of guilt.   Sethe was a literal prisoner to ‘schoolteacher’ but she made herself prisoner to her guilt and shame.  Ultimately, the prison closed in around her and in a final act of fear, she lets go of everything, broken and in pieces.   An old friend comes round, he’s been unsure of Sethe until now, but he offers a new life, without any prison:  “Sethe,” he says, me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody.  We need some kind of tomorrow.”

In the end, the two lay down their past and lift their heads to ‘tomorrow’ and the ghost that haunts Sethe is laid to rest at last.

beloved

‘Beloved’ is perhaps the most beautiful book I’ve ever read, as a writer, and definitely one of the most heartbreaking.  Of course it won a Nobel Prize….

If the story itself wasn’t enthralling enough, if the characters didn’t break your heart, then the writing will capture your eye and mind and keep you hostage.   Ms. Morrison’s use of language and structure in this work is wonderful magic.   A single phrase when referring to one of her characters, “Baby Suggs, holy,” offers a visual and mental motif to the story that provides an elegant consistency, like the bass line to a good song.   She breaks up the chapters occasionally, to keep the rhythm varied and the reader awake:  long narratives interspersed with short ditties that add fine details, another layer of depth and nuanced tones to the overall piece.  Ms. Morrison sets a high bar for us writers with ‘Beloved’, as such I can only be inspired by its artwork and its place among masterpieces,

As a reader, I would recommend this book for its beautiful story, engaging characters, and the sweet resolve it finds in the end.

As a writer, I would recommend this book as a sort of standard to hold up – “THIS!  THIS IS WHAT ART AND WRITING ARE ABOUT!”

No wonder it won the Nobel Prize…..

Keep writing kids…who knows what deep wells might bubble up from within….

Frankie


I find I have many bibles….

…you know, books that I turn to on a regular basis for nurturing to my soul.   As Christopher Hitchens writes “literature, not scripture, sustains the mind and the soul.”

Some of them I read on a regular basis:  Ishmael (Daniel Quinn) and The Red Tent (Anita Diamant ) for instance.  They are quick reads, yet their deeper truths never fail to resonate within my soul, and provide something for my mind to wrestle with.

Other works I take in a bit at a time, “The Portable  Jung” for example, or Nietzsche’s “The Genealogy of Morals”.  These give me an academic perspective and helps me to maintain a bit of objectivity about our humanity.

Then there are a few that I turn to every day almost, Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet” for instance, HDT’s ‘Walden”, and of course a certain hero of mine, Ralph Waldo Emerson.   Each of these keep me grounded, focused on the higher purpose of contributing to my fellow humans and effecting change in this world.

We are fortunate indeed, in this day and age, to have access to a wide variety of literature available to us, enriching our lives, pointing us to higher purposes, and challenging us to think and grow.

What sorts of works do you turn to?  Which books are your bibles?

Be Well,

Frankie